As someone who used to have access to C4D Studio with my old job, I find C4D Lite very disappointing. I've also got VC Element, so these days only use Lite to build models for export for Element.
I found that Lite just has too few features. The core stuff is the same, so if you avoid tutorials about Mograph, pyrocluster, thinking particles and character animation (and camera tracking ?) I think you can still do most of the basic tutorials around modelling.
I have a Space Navigator mouse which is fantastic for 3D programs like C4D and Lite doesn't support it - that's what really drove me away from it. And personally, it's just not worth the £2500 for Studio (or whatever the price is now).
I don't have either of the following products, but rendering appears better for photoreal in 3DS Max which is not much more. Particles are better in Houdini and Houdini Apprentice is free (although not full HD).